The first recorded name of the cove was Eastern Point Harbour or Peggs Harbour in 1766. The village is likely named after Saint Margaret’s Bay (Peggy being the nickname for Margaret), which Samuel de Champlain named after his mother Margarite. There has been much folklore created to explain the name and one story suggests the village may have been named after the wife of an early settler. The popular legend claims that the name came from the sole survivor of a shipwreck at Halibut Rock near the cove. The young shipwreck survivor married a resident of the cove in 1800 and became known as “Peggy of the Cove” attracting visitors from around the bay who eventually named the village, Peggy’s Cove, after her nickname.
The village was formally founded in 1811 when the Province of Nova Scotia issued a land grant of more than 800 acres to six families of German descent. The settlers relied on fishing as the mainstay of their economy but also farmed where the soil was fertile. They used surrounding lands to pasture cattle. In the early 1900s the population peaked at about 300. The community supported a schoolhouse, church, general store, lobster cannery and boats of all sizes that were nestled in the Cove.
Many artists and photographers flocked to Peggys Cove. As roads improved, the number of tourists increased. Today the population is smaller but Peggys Cove remains an active fishing village and a favourite tourist destination.
Roads and several homes were badly damaged at Peggys Cove in 2003 by the extensive flooding that accompanied Hurricane Juan which also damaged the cove’s breakwater. The breakwater was further washed away by Hurricane Bill in 2009, allowing waves to seriously damage a home and gift shop, and washed away one of the cove’s characteristic wooden fish sheds.
Today, Peggys Cove is primarily a tourist attraction, although its inhabitants still fish for lobster, and the community maintains a rustic undeveloped appearance. The regional municipality and the provincial government have strict land-use regulations in the vicinity of Peggys Cove, with most property development being prohibited. Similarly there are restrictions on who can live in the community to prevent inflation of property values for year-round residents.
The unique landscape of Peggy’s Cove and surrounding areas was subsequently carved by the migration of glaciers and the ocean tides. About 20,000 years ago, an ice ridge moved south from Canada’s Arctic region covering much of North America. Along with the ebb and flow of the glaciers, the ice ridge eventually melted and shifted and in the process scooped away and scoured large sections of rock, vegetation, and topsoil. As melted land glaciers flowed back to the oceans the changing tidal flows and rising sea levels filled the scarred areas with water, forming coves and inlets. Large boulders composed of 415-million-year-old Devonian granite, called glacial erratics, were lifted by the ice and carried for long distances before being deposited upon the landscape as the ice receded, leaving rugged barrens. The movement of the glacial ice and rocks left scouring marks in the bedrock that are still visible.
Peggys Cove has been declared a preservation area to protect its rugged beauty. The Peggys Cove Commission Act, passed in 1962, prohibits development in and around the surrounding village and restricts development within Peggys Cove.